Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.


People Analytics is the new buzz word in HR. It is here that the current vogue for AI and machine learning comes together with HR’s need to become more relevant and strategic. The major talent management and learning and development platforms are all touting their people analytics capabilities, and there are software platforms built to deliver the promise of people analytics.

Here is what Cornerstone on Demand, one of the leading Learning Management Systems (LMS) has to say.

“People analytics, also known as talent analytics or HR analytics, refers to the method of analytics that can help managers and executives make decisions about their employees or workforce. People analytics applies statistics, technology and expertise to large sets of talent data which results in making better management and business decisions for an organization. People analytics is a new domain for most HR departments. Companies are looking to better drive the return on their investments in people. The old approaches of gut feel are no longer sufficient.” You can read more on Cornerstone’s website here.

One of the leading People Analytics platforms is provided by the Vancouver BC company Visier. Visier was started by the team from Crystal Decisions (which was acquired by Business Objects which was required by SAP). This team believes that there are many business problems that are better solved through analytics than processes. They asked themselves, what critical part of the business is burdened with processes that do not add a lot of value that would benefit from the insights that analytics can provide. Their answer, the Human Resources department.

Indeed, HR is process bound and lacking in insights. Traditional HR software and solutions that focus on the managers’ questions instead of those of the individual reinforce this. HR software can generate a great deal of data, and better tools to get insights from this data are needed but something seems wrong here. Read the quote from Cornerstone again, “the method of analytics that can help managers and executives make decisions about their employees.” This is what is wrong with current approaches to HR.

It goes right back to the origins of the profession in the industrialization of the workforce. Humans are regarded as resources to be managed and exploited. They were expected to work in narrowly defined roles with specific deliverables. They were not seen as what they really are, autonomous agents who have their own purposes and aspirations. This is a real problem in a knowledge economy where organizations need the best creative efforts of their people if they are to innovate and thrive.

If People Analytics remains focussed on giving tools to managers and executives to make decisions about other people’s lives, it will continue the tradition of failure that plagues HR.

Is there a different way forward?

Yes. New HR, talent management and learning and performance software, including people analytics, has to be designed with a different user in mind. It is not the HR managers and executives that should drive the design, it is the individual and the team of people they work with. The first goal of HR software should be to provide value to the ‘human resources,’ to the people that are creating value for the company. This can be done.

The same data that People Analytics gathers to make predictions about who is at risk of leaving the company, or where the compliance risks lie can be used to help people better understand themselves, their own performance and how to improve it and how to better support the people on their teams. This should be the focus of People Analytics, helping each individual to understand their own performance.

The good athletes understand this. They know what stats matter to their own performance and how their own performance contributes to the team. Great athletes go deeper and reflect on their own performance and how to improve it. Which of your corporate HR applications is helping you to do this?

Does your learning management system or user experience platform help you to learn better? Does it help you understand how your colleagues learn?

Does your talent management or performance management system help you to understand what skills you have, how you are applying them and what potential skills you might have that you should develop?

Does your employee engagement system help your employees shape the purpose of the company and see how it aligns with their own purpose?

Enterprise systems that are designed to put the interests of the enterprise ahead of the interests of its people will fail as working patterns change. If People Analytics falls into this trap, as it appears to be doing, it will just be another footnote to the history of enterprise systems that fossilize existing systems.